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Tourism Kamloops's resiliency is stretching into the recovery era

It has been two years since the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns that hit hard the tourism sector. Since then, Tourism Kamloops shifted operations away from bringing people to the Tournament Capital and toward community resilience.
Monica Dickinson
Monica Dickinson stepped into the Tourism Kamloops CEO office on March 15, 2022.

It has been two years since the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns that hit hard the tourism sector. Since then, Tourism Kamloops shifted operations away from bringing people to the Tournament Capital and toward community resilience.

“The only thing that was certain in the last two years was this environment was ever-changing,” Tourism Kamloops CEO Monica Dickinson said. “It was probably one of the hardest periods in my career in the past 20 years and we lived through other downturns, like the economic downtown in 2008. We’ve been through SARS. We’ve been through 9-11. But, in comparison, this has probably been the hardest and most devastating.”

However, Dickinson said innovation and collaboration grew out of that devastation. She credited diversity of the Kamloops’ economy for supporting hotels through the difficult time. In place of tourism visitors, Trans Mountain pipeline and Royal Inland Hospital construction workers filled hotel rooms. The film industry also brought heads in beds.

“Those were saving graces, honestly in the last few years,” Dickinson said. “Obviously for our organization at Tourism Kamloops, that is funded by a hotel tax. This was business that continued to happen and continued to generate tax dollars that served our organization. Then, the work that our organization did was really to help the survival of our businesses during this really tough time.”

Tourism Kamloops developed the YKA Strong campaign, leading 11 business organizations with a common goal of serving the community and local businesses.

Dickinson said Tourism Kamloops was able to maintain its team, when many businesses and organizations were laying people off to stay alive. It took advantage of its marketing and communications team to develop a website, social channels and email database to share information on funding sources, training and government supports for the community.

When restrictions eased, YKA Strong shared stories of resilience to inspire people to move forward and also invite people back to Kamloops. Then, when things closed down again, the campaign shifted back toward providing resources.

The YKA Strong initiative brought together business improvement associations, Kamloops Airport, Venture Kamloops, Kamloops Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations. Dickinson said the group met regularly and it opened a line of communication between the organizations that did not exist holistically in the past.

“It was really cool to be able to sit with these counterparts in the community on a regular basis to share insights and concerns and challenges and opportunities,” he said. “I felt like I was part of a force. A force that really could make a difference for our community and make a difference for our residents that were dealing with all kinds of uncertainty and not certain of what outcomes would be for them.”

The collaboration continues today, with a focus on business recovery.

At the time of Progress’ publication, pandemic restrictions were being eased. Dickinson said her word for 2022 is “optimism.” She said trend indicators show a return to business and pent-up demand for travel.

“I think we’re going to see a summer or a travel year that is robust and so that’s encouraging, especially for those businesses that have weathered the storm and are looking to get back to what they are doing,” she said.

The challenges will be: staffing to meet those demands, ongoing funding for businesses in need and combatting ongoing emergencies, like fires and floods. Reputation management will be top of mind for Tourism Kamloops moving forward. The hotel tax was recently renewed, giving the organization a clear mandate.